- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2017


News flash: “[T]he majority of students who graduate D.C. with a high school diploma are not prepared to succeed in college or a career,” the D.C. State Board of Education says.

The shocking news came over the transom Wednesday evening in an email about the board’s ongoing efforts regarding graduation requirements. In other words, be prepared for upholders of the status quo to move the goal posts — again.

That’s bound to happen as charter schools, vouchers and organizations such as XQ Super Schools encourage educators, philanthropists and like-minded school choicers continue to push the envelope or think outside the box.

Instead, proponents of XQ Super Schools began a revolution of sorts — urging, funding and digging a refreshing new trench for high schoolers. Its supporters don’t sit around and merely drum their fingers while awaiting the next results on standardized tests.

One example is a $10 million grant to New Horizon High, which is slated to open its schoolhouse in 2018 on a barge that floats on the mighty Mississippi, where students can learn about what really and truly ruptures the ecosystem when hurricanes strike.

Another grant recipient is the Brooklyn Lab High School, where teachers are taught to teach and students are taught to learn and explore. Students at Brooklyn Lab, which has a sister middle school, will be given personalized instruction and study proposals, while new teachers will tutor students and join a residency program that will allow them to co-teach with veteran instructors. (A novel approach: Teachers know thy students, and students know thy teachers.)

A third example is the Washington Leadership Academy, a D.C. charter school whose doors opened in 2016 and whose 10th-graders already are enthralled with web development.

All told, there are 10 Super Schools that received $10 million apiece.

XQ: The Super School Project is an initiative of the Emerson Collective, where students, educators and community leaders collaborate to bring education out of the status quo stage. The Emerson Collective, meantime, is a brainchild of Laurene Powell Jobs, the philanthropic and business-minded widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs.

The initial intent was to fund five such schools, but with 700 applications to review, Mrs. Jobs doubled the number of grant winners.

The schools can tinker with many education aspects that traditional public school systems do not or cannot without butting heads with labor unions — STEM courses and other curriculum, school schedules and the use of technologies.

Why such an education revolution is needed is made as clear as clear can get by XQ Senior School Strategist Monica Martinez, who works on school development.

“Technology is used nominally, and students are typically idle and passive recipients of information,” Ms. Martinez told USA Today. “We have gone from a Model-T to a Tesla, a switchboard to a smartphone, and yet the American high school remains frozen in time.”

None of this revolution will likely sit well with labor unions, which want teachers, students and classrooms to be stationary objects. (Perhaps explaining why Michelle Obama’s get-up-and-move platform got up and went so quickly.)

However, something’s gotta give since a third of students who go to college have to take remedial courses and employers complaining that students are not for the workforce.

Moreover, students are telling us as much — and the D.C. school board is on record, too, questioning “how, if at all,” graduation requirements are linked to students’ unpreparedness.

Hmm, let’s see.

Might it be extraordinary absenteeism? Not really. School authorities practically wrestled that issue to the ground.

Might it be expulsions and suspensions? Nah.

Underpaid teachers and administrators? Nope. The D.C. teachers union and the city this summer reached a deal that calls for three raises: a 4-percent retroactive raise, a 3-percent raise in fiscal 2018, and a 2-percent in raise fiscal 2019.

Underfunded schools? Uh-uh. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who is expected to seek a second term in 2018, brags quite regularly about the “investment” her administration has made in public schools and education.

If you still need convincing that public schooling doesn’t deserve a stiff kick, check out Viola Davis, Cate Blanchett, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hanks, Common and Justin Timberlake on Friday between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. for “EIF Presents: XQ Super School Live.” That’s when that diverse group of celebs will join other celebs in a live network special that looks at the current state of our high schools and what they could be in the future.

In one hour, this reality TV will open your eyes.

Lord knows more of us need to.

Deborah Simmons can be contacted at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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